Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Burning Bridges

Good, lasting friendships are important. I have contact with many people whose friendships I have enjoyed for over 40 years. It has also been of the utmost importance to me to do all I could to maintain these friendships, which included doing any mending that was necessary to make sure that bond stayed intact. My husband is the same way. Neither of us likes to burn bridges, and we have both endeavored, to the best of our ability, to maintain good communication with all our friends, regardless of our differences.

We found this to be quite challenging at our former church, however, and for a variety of reasons. Friendship was not emphasized, but rather discouraged at this church. It was often belittled from the pulpit as having minimal value. Being people with many friends which we cherished, we could not understand the motive behind this view. Now we do. One of the reasons was that the pastor and his family members used their friends to accomplish what they needed, then discarded them when they were no longer beneficial. Sometimes you weren't totally thrown out, but you just dropped a few rungs down the ladder. Then someone bigger and better would replace you. Sometimes the bridge between you and the pastor or his family was burned completely. The more money and influence you had, the better a "friend" you were to them. We didn't just imagine this, we watched it take place for over 20 years, and it is still going on. It was very hurtful to us as well as many others who went to church there. So a person who has never experienced true friendship would certainly not endorse it.

Friendships also open lines of communication between people. The communication at our former church was always very strained and uncomfortable because you could not express your opinion if it differed with the leadership, particularly with the pastor. You were then labeled as a gossip and/or troublemaker. So when you got together with your friends you had to act like you were happy about whatever was going on at the church, even if you weren't. Because of this, friendships were often not trusting ones, and many ended. In retrospect, we believe that the leadership feared strong friendships among the congregation because then everyone would get together and discuss the true absurdity of the many situations that we encountered. One time, the pastor was very unkind and critical in some remarks he made to me. He overstepped his bounds to the point where my family should have left the church. I confided in a "friend" about what he said to me and it got back to him. He then accused me of putting a friendship before the "word." The irony of that was that nothing he said to me came from the Bible and he was not acting anything like Jesus would have. It would have been a help to me if he had. Sadly, I bought what he said and stayed for many more years.

We also observed the burning of many bridges in the leadership's relationship with other ministers. It was actually difficult to keep up with who was on the approved list or who just got moved to the black list. Much of it was politically motivated, such as, who was in this camp and that camp. There was much division between ministers who were supposed to share the same goal.

I Corinthians 3:4-8 in the Amplified says:
4. For when one says, I belong to Paul, and another, I belong to Apollos, are you not [proving yourselves] ordinary (unchanged) men?
5. What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Ministering servants [not heads of parties] through whom you believed, even as the Lord appointed to each his task:

6. I planted, Apollos watered, but God [all the while] was making it grow and [He] gave the increase.
7. So neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but [only] God Who makes it grow and become greater.
8. He who plants and he who waters are equal (one in aim, of the same importance and esteem), yet each shall receive his own reward (wages), according to his own labor.

This scripture was completely ignored. There were not only different camps, but different hierarchies of ministers within each camp, with all kinds of bridges being irreparably burned between them. It did not give us a very good taste of what ministry was supposed to be.

When it came to the point where we realized that we could no longer stay in this church, we attempted to formulate a plan for a smooth departure, only to have the bridge burned to a cinder behind us. We should have known that it was inevitable that after watching so many bridges being burned at this church that the same thing would eventually happen to us as well. Remember that bridges can be burned from either side. Burning bridges is a deliberate way of preventing anyone from returning. Maybe they realized that once someone saw the truth from the other side, they didn't want them coming back. Although it is not the best, sometimes you cannot prevent bridges from being burned. In this particular case, we are not interested in ever crossing that bridge again, and would discourage anyone else from doing the same.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 in the NIV says:
9. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
10. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Do all you can to repair and maintain the bridges that join you with friends. Don't let anyone stand between you and your friends, especially a crazy pastor.